Best NBA Scrap-Heap Pickups of the Last 20 Years
If you were to ask maybe 50 NBA fans to define this season in one word, I would bet anything from my Xbox to my right arm that nearly half would answer with the following: Linsanity.
The sensation has only lasted about a month, but undrafted Harvard grad Jeremy Lin has become something of a household name in turning the New York Knicks from underachievers into contenders. His phenomenal skills as a point guard have put him on the cover of TIME Magazine and have even gotten ice cream magnates Ben & Jerry's to name a flavor after him.
Adding to Lin's legend is the fact that he was, as I just mentioned, undrafted. Here's a guy who pretty much got lucky with a tryout and found himself in the NBA, only to be the toast of the league a year later.
Lin isn't the only player in league history to find success in the NBA under similar circumstances, so it's time to give those from the past two decades their due credit.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the inaugural class of the NBA Scrap Heap Hall of Fame.
1992: David Wesley
David Wesley was an undersized shooting guard for Baylor University back in the early '90s, and his not being overly athletic led every team to pass on him in the draft. After one season in the CBA, he signed with the New Jersey Nets and just a few years later, he became the starting point guard for the Charlotte Hornets.
From there, he never looked back.
Wesley adjusted to point guard well and still had the magic shooting touch, finishing his 14-year career with an average of 12.5 points per game and shooting a respectable 37 percent from beyond the arc.
He was never an All-Star and never got any major honors playing in the NBA, but Wesley still achieved so much more as a professional that most scouts surely anticipated.
1993: Bruce Bowen
On paper, Bruce Bowen doesn't seem that special. A 6'7" forward who went undrafted, he only averaged 6.1 points and 2.8 rebounds for his career.
However, in eight seasons with the San Antonio Spurs, Bowen proved to be one of the greatest defensive pests of all time and proved to have a deadly three-point shot if left open. Upon retirement, he had been named to five All-Defensive First Teams and had three championship rings, not to mention a career three-point percentage of 39.
1994: Voshon Lenard
Voshon Lenard was a star for the Minnesota Golden Gophers who could shoot, but not much else. The Milwaukee Bucks took him in the latter half of the second round of the 1994 draft, but he chose to return to school and played a year in the CBA before being signed by the Miami Heat.
Sure enough, Lenard's shooting ability was legit; he made an 11-year career out of being a three-point threat off the bench for four different teams. When his career ended in 2006, he averaged 11.9 points per game and shot 38 percent from long range.
He didn't necessarily come off of the scrap heap, but he was still an underrated threat nonetheless.
1995: Fred Hoiberg
In his four years at Iowa State, where he is now the head coach for the men's basketball team, Fred Hoiberg was a lot like Jimmer Fredette. He could shoot, but not much else.
Sure enough, the Indiana Pacers took him late in the second round of the 1995 draft and once reached the pros, he became destined to be no more than a shooter. He averaged just 5.4 points in a 10-year career, but shot close to 40 percent from three-point land.
In 2005, his last season, he shot 48 percent from long range, leading the league.
1996: Ben Wallace
To be honest, I'd like to meet the scouts who advised teams to not draft Ben Wallace in 1996.
After winning NBA Defensive Player of the Year four times, being named to four All-Star teams and winning a championship ring, it's clear that the Detroit Pistons center is one of the greatest steals in league history.
1997: Stephen Jackson
15 years ago, at the 1997 NBA draft, my 11-year-old mind probably would have laughed had I been told that Stephen Jackson would one day be a decent shooting guard. Drafted by the Phoenix Suns out of Butler Community College with the 43rd pick, Jackson was waived during the preseason and bounced around overseas and in the CBA before signing with the New Jersey Nets in 2000.
Almost immediately, he gained a reputation as a decent bench shooter and intense competitor. Before we all realized it, he was a starter with a volatile personality, sometimes averaging upwards of 20 points a game.
This season hasn't been kind to Jackson, as he appears to be unhappy playing for the Milwaukee Bucks (his seventh NBA team). Still, his NBA story is a good one that could serve as an inspiration to others.
1998: Brad Miller
For someone who was a decent college center at Purdue and with great size at 6'11", 244 pounds, it's interesting that Brad Miller didn't get drafted. Sure, the lockout was going on when he entered the league, but 12 points and 6.7 rebounds isn't that bad over four years of college.
Miller went to play in Italy for a few months until the lockout was settled and then signed with the Charlotte Hornets as a free agent. Since then, he has developed a reputation as a tough inside presence who can play tough defense and even hit some shots for long range.
For his career, Miller has averaged 11.3 points and 7.2 boards while also shooting about 33 percent from three-point range, and he's even played in two All-Star Games. That's pretty impressive for someone whose primary position is center.
He isn't as dominant today as he was 10 years ago, but Miller was definitely quite a steal during his prime.
1999: Raja Bell
For his 11-year career, Raja Bell has been little more than a solid defensive presence and/or a three-point specialist. He has shot 41 percent from long range for his career and was an effective shooting guard for the Phoenix Suns during the high-octane Mike D'Antoni years.
Ready for the crazy part? Bell was undrafted—first signed as a free agent by the Philadelphia 76ers in 2000.
Looking at the year 2000 (cue this), I can honestly say it was one of the most uneventful years in terms of surprise players. It was very conventional, with nobody really coming off the scrap heap.
The only one who comes close to the "scrap heap" is second-round pick Michael Redd (pictured), but his constantly being injured keeps him from the status we've been discussing thus far.
2001: Mehmet Okur
2001 was another slow season in terms of players coming off the scrap heap, but how can I not mention Mehmet Okur? The guy was, essentially, a lot like Kevin Love in that he was a big power forward who could work the inside and rebound effectively, as well as shoot accurately from long-range.
Injuries have robbed him of his effectiveness the past couple of years, but had the Detroit Pistons not used their second-round pick to take Okur, the fans would have been victims of draft highway robbery.
2002: Matt Barnes
Matt Barnes was a second-round pick of the Memphis Grizzlies in 2002, but he never played a game for them after being waived in October of that year.
He has since bounced around the league and played small forward for eight teams in nine years, the best part of his game being decent defense and solid three-point shooting.
It took him a while to get off of the scrap heap completely, but Barnes' reliability over the years has been impeccable.
The 2003 draft and subsequent season was so hyped due to the three men pictured, plus Carmelo Anthony, all being drafted within the first five picks. Thus, there wasn't really much spotlight room for anyone coming off the scrap heap.
2004: Trevor Ariza
A talented high school player, Trevor Ariza spent one year at UCLA before declaring himself eligible for the NBA draft. The New York Knicks took him in the second round and though his numbers with the team don't appear stellar, Ariza was much better than they indicate.
It must be understood that the Knicks were being run into the ground by Isiah Thomas during Ariza's brief tenure there, and the roster wasn't being used effectively. Despite that, Ariza proved to be a great defensive pest and an incredibly sick dunker.
He was ultimately sent to the Orlando Magic in the infamous Steve Francis trade, but his craft has continued to develop as he won a championship ring with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009 and is now easily the best player on the hapless New Orleans Hornets.
2005: Marcin Gortat
Take a look at Marcin Gortat's dunk here, not to mention how dominant a center he's become since being traded to the Phoenix Suns, and then try to figure out how he slipped all the way towards the end of the second round in the 2005 draft.
Talk about a scrap-heap surprise!
2006: Paul Millsap
In three years at Louisiana Tech, Paul Millsap averaged 18.6 points and 12.7 boards per game. Good numbers, but his stocky build at 6'8", 245 pounds surely caused some concern and thus he slipped to the latter half of the second round of the 2006 draft, where the Utah Jazz picked him.
Even in a bench role for his first couple of pro seasons, Millsap provided the same tough defense he did in college, averaging about 5.5 rebounds per game. Today, he's a double-double threat night after night.
He probably has some scouts thinking, "OK...why did we hesitate with him, again?"
2007: Marc Gasol
Upon entering the NBA in 2008 after his contract in Spain ran out, Marc Gasol immediately had some big shoes to fill. His brother, Pau, was selected third overall back in 2001, so he was already playing in quite a big shadow.
Still, despite a delayed entry into the league, he immediately made an impact as a tough defensive center on a young and inexperienced Grizzlies team. In just three short years, Gasol turned the Grizzlies from young hopefuls into a veritable force that eliminated the heavily favored San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs last year.
With his tough defense and ever-improving offensive game, Gasol is turning from scrap-pile pickup into marketable superstar.
2008: Mario Chalmers
As the deadly three-point shooter on the Kansas Jayhawks team that won a national championship in 2008, Chalmers was already something of a household name once he was drafted in the second round.
It was another slow year in terms of scrap-heap miracles, but Chalmers was something special.
Going into the draft, I and most others saw him as little more than a shooter who could also play solid defense, the latter of which being questionable in terms of NBA effectiveness. However, in just three-plus seasons, Chalmers has proven to be the defensive presence needed on the court while his three A-list teammates work their magic.
He has averaged 1.4 steals for his career and to be honest, it's shocking he hasn't been named to an All-Defensive Team yet. Considering how clutch he was in college and how much he flew under the radar come draft time, this is a scrap pickup for the ages.
2009: Marcus Thornton
In two years at LSU, Marcus Thornton averaged 20.4 points per game. As an undersized 2-guard at 6'4", he slipped into the second round once he entered the draft despite those numbers.
Still, he did well as a bench shooter for the New Orleans Hornets as a rookie before his minutes took a dip in his sophomore campaign. Then he was traded to the Sacramento Kings.
Thornton has found his niche as the Kings shooting guard, averaging close to 20 points a game since the move. He may have been a second-round pick, but he's been playing with the intensity of a lottery player and has proven to be quite the steal.
2010: Landry Fields
Landry Fields had a great senior season at Stanford, averaging 22 points and 8.8 rebounds as he led the Pac-10 in both scoring and rebounding. Yet, he wasn't overly athletic and thus slipped into the second round of the draft, where he was selected by the New York Knicks.
Fields proved to be one of the biggest steals of the draft, as he played with an intensity many would not expect from a shooting guard. He drove the lane hard, had a great three-point shot and crashed the boards more than any 2-guard in the game.
Say what you want about Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony being the reason the Knicks were back on the map last year. Had Fields not been there in the pre-Carmelo days, I'm willing to bet that the team wouldn't have done as well as it did.
2011: Jeremy Lin
As was mentioned at the start of the slideshow, Jeremy Lin went to Harvard and was not drafted in 2010. Instead, he signed a contract with the Golden State Warriors and was waived after one season.
He then spent brief periods with the Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets before ending up with the Knicks.
To explain how he's a great scrap-pile pickup, I think we just need to look at his stats for the month of February: 20.9 points, 8.4 assists and 2.1 steals per game.